“An unforgettable taste of the connection between the table and the world.”
– ALICE WATERS, chef/owner Chez Panisse
Women’s relationship with food is passionate and obsessive, embracing and comforting, complex and frustrating. This savory sampling of stories—by some of the best writers in and out of the food and travel fields—journeys to the heart of this age-old relationship, taking the reader from the familiar kitchens of contemporary America to the far reaches of the globe.
In France, an over-enthusiastic waitress serves M.F.K. Fisher the lunch of a lifetime to sustain her on her walk to Avallon. In Tunisia, Ruth Reichl dines at the home of a local, where the meal is eaten with the hands and a dash of sensuality. And in Fiji, where the women are big and beautiful and walk like royalty, Laurie Gough encounters food as a grand and constant celebration.
Authors include: M.F.K. Fisher, Ruth Reichl, Isabel Allende, Laurie Colwin, Frances Mayes, and many more.
A Taste of What’s to Come
The table was set with a gorgeous linen cloth, Mom’s fine china, and Grandmother’s heirloom silver. Candles provided the only light in the dining room, and beautiful serving dishes were strategically placed, overflowing with treats I had savored while in Italy: spiced cracked green olives, a golden Tuscan olive oil that had captured the sun, and grissini torinesi, Italian breadsticks. The small plates arranged with a classic French niçoise salad of baby lettuces, green beans, petite potatoes, egg wedges, olives, and tuna in a delicate vinaigrette, reminded me of the shopping I’d done while strolling on the rue Moufftard in Paris. Around the table, spoons grew heavy with my version of aardapple soep, a creamy Dutch potato soup that I had sampled in a convent in a small town outside Utrecht. As I ladled the mushroom stroganoff onto a bed of soft noodles, I recalled the weeks I had spent in Yugoslavia eating nothing but bread and cheese, and the elation I had felt on my first day in Munich when I stumbled upon a vegetarian restaurant, where the stroganoff was a staple. When protests arose from my family – “We’re too full!” – I simply brought out something no one could refuse, homemade crepes stuffed with sliced bananas and a thin layer of Nutella. The coup de grâce was the one item I purchased in every country I visited: Kindereggs, chocolate eggs in whose centers small gifts were concealed. One for each guest. The meal was complete.
This dinner was my attempt to share with my family a life-changing experience I’d had: a college semester spent traveling in Europe. When I returned home, I thought, I can’t just show them my photos and all the bits of paper, tiny French-fry forks, and other miscellaneous souvenirs I collected. So I decided to prepare a meal for them as a way to share my journey, using each dish to tell a different part of my story. The fare I had savored abroad reminded me – and informed my family about – the wonderful places I had visited, and although the dishes did not go together to form an easily digestible meal, they proved to be the best way for me to articulate my many travel experiences. As I prepared, cooked, and savored the meal with my friends and family, they could smell, taste, and delight in my journey, as I knew I always would.
“What was the most memorable and the worst thing you ate while you were there?” I can’t help myself. Food is invariably the first thing I inquire about. Of course, I then always ask about the rest of the trip, but for me the most interesting and revealing conversations about travel often begin with one’s gastronomical adventures. Once you get someone talking about her remarkable feasts and favorite fare abroad, you are sure to also hear about the stomach-turning meal and other tales of disastrous dining.
The connection between food and travel is an organic one, for many reasons. Food is an immediate memory trigger: one bite and in an instant you return to that balmy evening spent on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, where you and your lover dined on succulent grilled prawns, homemade tortillas, and a fresh guacamole made only seconds before from a tidy pile of tomatoes, peppers, lemon, and avocado. One evening you’re standing in your kitchen, preparing dinner for your family, and just as you add that last pinch of ground cumin to the pot, you remember your astonishment at the rich color of the various spices available at the marketplace in India. Or perhaps you feel a hunger pang and it reminds you of when all the banks were closed in Amsterdam and you only had enough guilders in your pocket to buy a cone of pommes frites. It wasn’t much of a meal, but it was comforting and satiated you for the evening.
Food is also a window into the cultures and countries we visit: as we go to local restaurants, share meals prepared in the homes of newfound friends, adventure through market stalls with traveling companions, and wonder at the strangeness and sensuousness of new cuisine, we learn directly – through our senses – what it means to travel and experience the world. Her Fork in the Road reflects this profound relationship between travel and food. I’ve prepared a tasty menu of stories by women about food and travel, so that you too can share the delight, passion, and adventure they experienced while sampling the world’s culinary bounty. In order to bring together these wonderful stories, I explored the contemporary landscape of food and travel literature, and also read hundreds of stories that were submitted directly to me for consideration. This is clearly a topic that resonates with women writers and travelers, and here you’ll find classics from modern culinary literature by M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Ruth Reichl, Frances Mayes, Laurie Colwin, and others, as well as many new voices that have never been published before.
But why a book about women, food, and travel? Women have a unique relationship with food, one that revolves around issues of self, family, and society. We’re often defined by how thin or fat we are, or whether we’re able to be home every evening to cook a decent meal for our families. Some women struggle with food disorders throughout their lives, often waging a fierce life-and-death battle. And the kitchen has always been women’s territory, women’s sacred space in which to gather, chat, and prepare sustenance for the family. And women also have a distinctive way of traveling that lends itself to culinary adventures, whether they are invited into a local woman’s kitchen, attend a cooking school, or dissect a recipe in a foreign restaurant to re-create at home. Women’s connection to food is both personal and communal, positive and negative, troubled and life-affirming.
Perhaps this is why so many women love “food porn,” whether it’s films such as Chocolat, Babette’s Feast, and Like Water for Chocolate, with their lingering shots of food being arranged, dished up, and delighted in, or food confessionals such as Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, Isabel Allende’s Aphrodite, and anything written by the late M.F.K. Fisher.
Food can be as sensual and comforting as a lover, as the stories in this book reveal. A meal can slowly seduce you with each course, as M.F.K. Fisher experiences in a long lunch she is served by an anxious waitress in a restaurant she stumbles upon on her walk to Avallon. How one eats a meal can also be extremely sensuous, as Ruth Reichl discovers in “A Second Helping” while watching her friend receive a lesson from an attractive Tunisian man in how to eat delicate grains of couscous with only the tips of her fingers. And in “On Pleasures Oral” Linda Watanabe McFerrin and her husband sit back and watch as a Venetian restaurant owner spends the evening trying to seduce their friend with wine, pasta, and the promise of a secret recipe.
Have you ever taken a bite of something and had to pause because it tasted otherworldly? Tamara Holt has a mystical experience while traveling in Greece, where a woman walks “the streets like a missionary of taste, offering sacraments to the unenlightened…communicating without words, through the language of food.” She accepts the edible gift and is left standing in the street alone, pondering this strange encounter. And Dervla Murphy attends a going-away party in “Purifying Spirits” where she imbibes local potent spirits, enters into an altered state, and the next morning is left exorcising her “personal Goddess of Destruction.” The stories in Her Fork in the Road explore the spiritual and mystical nature of food.
The writers gathered here also reveal the essential role that sharing food together plays in creating and cementing family bonds. Whether we are gathering for the nightly meal at home or sharing meals while traveling abroad, my family has always used food as a way to come together. On vacation, we plan our days around mealtime. At breakfast, we talk about lunch. During lunch, we negotiate where to have dinner. And at dinner, we discuss the pleasures of the day, including what we consumed. Many families eat and travel together, and in Libby Lubin’s “Please Pass the Snails, Mom” we find surprising gifts when parents travel with their children and encourage them to try everything – including the unusual items on the menu.
Food also enables women to discover things about themselves – and to create lasting bonds with other women they meet in their travels. During a home-stay Lynne Vance, in “Sampling La Vie Provençale,” connects with her French hostess through her realization that a Frenchwoman’s life typically consists of the same everyday tasks that American wives and mothers must perform: shopping, cleaning, and doing grown children’s laundry even after they’ve moved away from home. While in France, she savors the au naturel code of shopping for and cooking with only the freshest ingredients, and line-drying laundry to soak in the “fruity, herbal bouquet” of her home-stay family’s garden. In “A War with Grandma,” Ashley Palmer declares a silent battle when her adoptive Japanese grandmother decides to test her palate with a variety of snacks. The battle binds them together, and a winner is declared only when Ashley decides to make her own sweet offensive move. When a woman invites you into her home and kitchen, she gives you an invaluable opportunity, whether it’s to learn how to prepare a local dish or to gain her lasting friendship.
Travel also pushes you to be adventurous, daring, or hungry enough to try just about anything. When you visit abroad, it’s sometimes hard to maintain your usual dietary habits, as Stephanie Elizondo Griest discovered during her year in China. In “The Culinary Revolution,” after being a vegetarian for years, she quickly decides to expand her gastronomical horizons to include chicken feet, dried beef, and a taste of something that ensures her a carnivorous future. Not all stories about food and travel are easy to swallow. Sometimes food prompts a personal struggle, a painful memory, or a cultural challenge to overcome. In Michelle Hamilton’s story “The Long Road,” she reveals her battle with an eating disorder that is forced to the surface on a bike ride across the United States. This extended journey allows Michelle to begin to vanquish her disorder, an enemy since high school, as she realizes that she needs food to continue her journey eastward and to survive. In Laura Harger’s “Blue Crabs,” her mother is too sick to eat, yet she finds the strength to teach Laura the secrets of cracking open and the joys of eating Chesapeake blue crabs. In sharing this last meal together, Laura finds something to remember her mother by.
Throughout Her Fork in the Road, as the gastronomic travelers in this collection attest, food is both a window to the world and a lens through which we examine other people and ourselves. I hope that you, too, are open to discovering the traveling gourmet in yourself. I often think of my defining moment as a roaming gastronome, when I realized that food was indeed the aspect of travel that gave me the most pleasure and exhilaration. After a long day spent walking through Bruges, Belgium, I was exhausted, but knew I wanted to splurge on a typical meal of mussels and pommes frites. I walked all along the central town square, but it was clear that my best bet was someplace off the beaten track. I wandered from restaurant to restaurant, peering in and reading the menus. Finally, I turned down a street and heard soulful jazz flowing out of the doors of a candlelit entryway. I entered the bar and walked upstairs to the restaurant, where I was seated in the corner. I’d already been on the road for six weeks, so by this point I felt comfortable eating alone. I ordered a local Trappist Monk beer and waited for my highly anticipated dinner. The waiter carried to my table a large black pot filled with mussels drenched in a sauce of leeks, butter, and cream, accompanied by a plate of pommes frites. I just about died. Halfway through my meal, with a mound of empty shells growing fast in front of me, the German couple at the table next to mine interrupted and asked, “Would you like us to take a picture? We’ve never seen anyone so excited about a meal before.” I still have that picture – it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m glowing.
Her Fork in the Road is a tribute to such moments, the times when you stop to savor your journey. My main desire in collecting the stories you are about to read is to give you a memorable taste of women celebrating food and travel. I hope this book accomplishes just that, and makes you hungry – both to travel, and for something to eat.
– Lisa Bach
Introduction: A Taste of What’s to Come
PART ONE: ESSENCE OF FOOD
I Was Really Very Hungry — M.F.K. Fisher
Waiting for Gözleme — Pier Roberts
At War with Grandma — Ashley Palmer
Sfuso: Loose Wine — Frances Mayes
Tempted in Jakarta — Faith Adiele
The Language of Taste — Tamara Holt
On Pleasures Oral — Linda Watanabe Mcferrin
Savoring the Trail — Kelly Winters
The Man Who Has the Garden in Lefkes — Pamela S. Laird
Blue Crabs — Laura Harger
PART TWO: EPICURIOUS
A Second Helping — Ruth Reichl
Sampling La Vie Provençale — Lynne Vance
God as Pâtissier — Patricia Storace
Chocolate with Julia — GraceAnn Walden
Dishes for Collectors — Elizabeth David
A Culinary Tour through Chinatown — Janis Cooke Newman
Easter Nachos in Warsaw — Kristin M. Roberts
Please Pass the Snails, Mom — Libby Lubin
English Food — Laurie Colwin
PART THREE: THE ADVENTURE OF DINING
A Culinary Revolution — Stephanie Elizondo Griest
Hungarian Rhapsody — Julie Jindal
Of Cabbages and Kings of Beasts — Pam Peeters
Funeral Feast — Dana Squires
Hunger in the Himalayas — Kari Bodnarchuk
Bonito Mañana — Diane Selkirk
In Pursuit of the Great White Truffle — Helen Barolini
PART FOUR: IS THAT ON THE MENU?
What Bengali Widows Cannot Eat — Chitrita Banerji
Alligators and Piranhas — Isabel Allende
The Long Road — Michelle Hamilton
Sourtoe Cocktail — Diane Rigda
A Curry to Die For — Margi O’Connell-Hood
Purifying Spirits — Dervla Murphy
PART FIVE: ONE LAST BITE
Fruits of Paradis — Laurie Gough
Fiji Recommended Reading Index of Contributors Acknowledgments
Waiting for Gözleme
by Pier Roberts
In a race against time, hunger is everything.We’d been exploring the wonders of Cappadocia in Central Turkey, marveling at the man-made and geological beauty of the area. Bright, colorful frescoes adorned the walls of churches, the oldest carved from the rocks more than 1,300 years ago. Beautiful rock formations known as fairy chimneys filled valleys with their strange forms. From the soft porous rock of the area emerged Zelve, a whole village of troglodyte dwellings that had been inhabited until quite recently.
Throughout the long day, my friend and I had forgotten about eating, distracted by the sights around us. Finally, as we headed to the bus stop in Zelve to catch the last bus back to Ürgüp, due in at six o’clock, we remembered that we hadn’t eaten since breakfast. A typical Turkish breakfast offered massive amounts of food—bread, cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs—and was usually enough to tide us over. But not today. When the hunger pangs hit we immediately started to talk about what we’d eat for dinner once we arrived.
We got to the bus stop with little time to spare, and that’s when we saw two women sitting on the side of the road, a mother and daughter team, selling fresh gözleme. Both were beautiful, with long dark hair, loosely covered with a simple beaded headscarf. They were wearing the traditional dress of the area—a gauzy peasant blouse on top and baggy colorful pants on the bottom. They smiled at us and pointed to a large griddle by their side, offering to cook us some gözleme. I’d never tasted gözleme, a mixture of cheeses and spices wrapped in fresh dough and cooked over a hot griddle, but Kenan had, and he said that we should try it. I looked at my watch; I looked at the women and the griddle, a bowl of dough sitting next to it. I told Kenan that we didn’t have time, but in the spirit of adventure, he said, “Let’s try. We’ll pay the women anyway if it’s not ready when the bus comes.”
Kenan explained to the mother that we had to catch the six o’clock bus back to Ürgüp, and immediately I saw something sparkle in her eyes when she met his gaze. I saw that she was determined to take on the challenge, to work against the clock. She looked back at him, intensely, gravely, seriously—the way that Turks can often look—and told him, “You will have your gözleme.” Then she stood up and ordered her daughter to a shack a hundred or so feet away, and the daughter went off like a gazelle.
The mother turned up the heat on the griddle and took out two clumps of dough from the bowl. She began to roll out the dough, an expert at the task, this way and that, back and forth, a miracle before my eyes: in seconds, the thinnest, most perfectly round pieces of dough I’d ever seen. Just as she finished rolling, the daughter returned, panting, with a bowl of the filling—fresh cheese, parsley, red pepper, other spices, salt and pepper. The mother quickly flipped the dough onto the griddle, turned it once, sprinkled the filling over the dough, and I saw it beginning to happen: the birth of my first gözleme.
And then we heard it, all of us, in the distance, the dolmus‚—a minibus whose name means stuffed—on its way to Zelve. We all looked up to see it, rattling over the narrow road, working its way down to where we stood, suspended in the moment. It still had a few curves to take, a hill or two to climb and descend before it would arrive. But we all knew in an instant that we wouldn’t make it; that it was a good try, but it wouldn’t work; that the filling in the gözlemewouldn’t melt just right; and the raw dough over the filling wouldn’t cook just right in the amount of time that we had left before the bus arrived in Zelve.
As the bus approached, we tried to stop the women, tried to give them money anyway, tried to thank them for a valiant effort. But they wouldn’t hear of it, and they insisted on continuing, the gözleme beginning to sizzle on the griddle. When the bus driver opened the door, Kenan and I stood still for a moment, not sure what to do. But the mother, she knew. Maybe she has done this before, I thought. She jumped up and asked the bus driver to wait for a moment.
He resisted some more.
She implored. “Lütfen, lütfen.” Please, please, she nearly wailed. Wouldn’t he please, lütfen, hold on, rest a moment, wait until the gözleme was finished. It wouldn’t be a huge problem now, would it? “And look,” she pointed to us, “the visitors are starving.”
We put on sad faces and tried to look really hungry, while I added in the best Turkish I could, “Çok aç” (very hungry) as the bus driver roared and moaned, protested profusely, claimed that he couldn’t wait at every bus stop on his route for meals to be made. But she argued her case well, and she argued it long, and all the time she argued, the gözleme sizzled and sizzled, and the aroma from the griddle rose up from the side of the road, wafted through the open doors of the bus, and made its way slowly and purposefully down the aisle. Suddenly, I heard a sympathetic voice rise up from the back of the bus: “Oh come on, I don’t mind waiting a little bit. Let them have their gözleme.” And soon another voice joined that voice. Until eventually we had the support of everyone on the bus to wait out the cooking of the gözleme. “What’s the big rush anyway?” someone from a front seat asked.
The bus driver turned to face the mutinous crowd of passengers behind him, and finally shrugged his shoulders, turned back to the mother, and said, “Okay. Okay. Tamam. But don’t ask this of me again.”
And so the bus waited at the Zelve bus stop while the women finished cooking our gözleme. The mother folded the dough over the filling as if she were sealing an envelope with a secret message inside. When it was all done, the dough was perfectly cooked, light brown spots dotting the outside, the cheese soft and warm, the spices just beginning to send out their flavor. The daughter wrapped up one and the mother wrapped up another as we paid for the food and then jumped onto the bus. Someone on the bus cheered as we sat down, and a few other passengers joined him. I smiled at everyone on the bus, a little embarrassed, but happy too to have my gözleme. We turned and waved to the women on the side of the road, now settling back down, squatting next to their hot griddle.
We sat on the bus, and the sun sank further into the Cappadocia landscape as we ate ourgözleme, one of the best, and certainly one of the hardest won meals I had in Turkey.
Pier Roberts lives and works in Los Angeles, California. Her stories have appeared inTravelers’ Tales Spain, A Woman’s Passion for Travel, Escape, and Atlantic Unbound.
Lisa Bach is a freelance writer and editor with a Master’s Degree in literature and more than ten years experience in book publishing. She is the editor of 365 Travel: A Daily Book of Journeys, Meditations, and Adventures. She has eaten her way through more than twenty countries, but having just bought a home in Oakland, California, she will be spending more time with her luggage unpacked, in the kitchen cooking on her old Wedgewood stove.